RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Songs of unrest

img  Tobias Fischer

Water canons against words, pepper spray against peaceful protests, tear gas instead of negotiations: These are the signs of a state, which has run out of solutions. With their violent attack on 31st of May, at a time when many protesters were still sleeping, the police further escalated what started as a disagreement about the use of a public park space, politicising an entire nation and setting its biggest city on fire. There is no reason whatsoever for the rest of Europe to feel morally superior - only forty years ago, German police were engaged in strikingly similar disputes on the streets, the government responding to student dissatisfaction with arrogance and a blatant lack of understanding. With the wounds of these conflicts still festering today, meanwhile, it seems all the more important that the voices of the protesters are finally heard rather than being shoved aside. Sound artist Biblo was present in İstanbul when the demonstrations began and has followed the development of the crisis from day one. We spoke to her about her impression of the sentiments on the street, the attitude of the Erdogan government as well her perspective on the role of the arts in the conflict. Her conclusion is clear: These days will not be forgotten.

What is the situation on the streets of İstanbul like right now?
Rigidly clean with a forced feeling of fake peacefulness. Full of police officers on the one hand, and on the other full of hope with creative, amazing ideas of passive resistance from people.

The situation surrounding Gezi park has gone from hopeful to disastrous in just a few hours. How did you experience the clearing of the park?
With terror, with moist eyes. I was in the park just a few hours before the police intervention. But for the last 20 days or so, if we’re not in the park, we are in front of the computer, following the event flow through social media. So I was home watching the park from live amateur cameras from the Internet. We were not expecting an operation at that state, at a very busy hour on a Saturday evening - Taksim is the most popular area of İstanbul in the weekends - for we were promised non-violent negotiations by the governor himself just one and a half days before.

Did you visit the camp before the police raid took place?
Yes, I already live in Taksim, very close to the park itself and I was there every day. The mood there was very determined, peaceful but still tense for there was police intervention every two or three days, so they became professional care-takers/givers after the second day basically. I think most of the people who lived there and were a part of the resistance since day one were expecting an intervention but not on that particular day. It was right after a difficult meeting they had with the Prime Minister and they were discussing how to proceed the resistance from then on in the light of the outcome of that meeting. And since the governor of İstanbul announced/ promised/ underlined that they were not going to touch Gezi Park, the park was full of children, old and disabled people and families who thought it was safe to be there trusting the governor’s words. So I’d say some part of the crowd could have been expecting an intervention but most people did not.

What has been your own involvement in the protests?
I was quite involved, although I haven’t camped in the park. I was confronted by the police and was exposed to a lot of tear gas, too. First time, you get scared, but once it’s over and you know how to deal with it, and the threshold of fear has been left behind, it gets easy. And solidarity helps a lot.

Now the police have demonstrated their resolve, what's the current mood among protesters like? Do you see their activities continuing or slowly fizzling out?
No, their activities are not fizzling out, but rather evolving into something else. The element of humor and creativity which was the most important catalyst and the motivator for the movement is still as vivid as on day one. Plus, people are more conscious and experienced right now. They have learnt a lot and hopefully what started as a big burst of rage against the government's oppressive habits is going to bloom into an ongoing battle for expression of freedom, questioning for rights in a more organized and conscious way. I strongly believe and really hope that things are not going to be as they were before any more. 

What was it, do you feel, that made people so discontent with the Erdogan government?
Well, he has this very arrogant and rude way of talking, he looks down on everyone. His primary policy was telling that he was siding with the poor, downtrodden population, that he would make the country better for everyone, would die for democracy etc. But then again he is too proud, won’t level with anyone and there lays the dilemma. He has been the PM for over a decade now and although he started with common man-friendly, understanding and bonding attitude which was the main reason for the support he got in the first place, he gradually became obsessed with power over the years. He now is a control freak who strongly believes he is omnipotent and owns the whole country and has the right the do whatever he wants just because he received almost 50 percent of the votes in the last election. I should add, that although this movement may not have contained a lot of AKP supporters initially there were some additions from them, too, after seeing the violent act of the police force and the unjust attitude of the government.

What role have the media played in the conflict?
Oh, they have openly taken sides. And they continue to. Turkish mainstream media were totally indifferent to what was going on right outside their live-studios for a few days. Then, after a lot of civil work and protests in front of their studios, a few of them tried to apologise in their own ways and cover the news but it was not enough and was openly biased. The problem with the people who have power in Turkey is that they may get over-emotional over stuff like even ‘country managing’ and giving ‘the news’. They take every criticism as an insult to their personalities and tend to get offended. This applies to everyone from the anchorman of a TV channel to the editor of a newspaper and of course the government. I think it has got to do with the insecure states they are in basically. They lie, because they’re not confident and suddenly try to put the blame on someone/ something else, other than spotting, recognizing and trying to overcome the actual source of the problem.

Music, literature, photography and film have traditionally been strongest in times of crisis. What, from your perspective, can the role of artists be in this process?
Well, to me art basically is about unrest so it has this direct connection to, and could be inspired by any uprising that may occur everywhere. It’s the same here: It’s a great way to handle the difficult emotional weight the unrest brings, it gives people hope and encouragement, connects people. You sing songs about freedom in solidarity from all over the world from different times. You make up your own songs, your own stories. So art gets as real as it can get during these times through real-time observation and levelling with the voice of the streets.

How "political" is the arts scene of İstanbul in general?
Politics is tricky when it comes to art. You understand why, it’s disgusting and may be polarizing, needs focus and consumes your life away. So it’s easier to chose the other way around. I am not the best person to answer this question, for I am not directly involved in the art scene of İstanbul. But I know political artists, even though I mean ‘political’ in the sense that they talk about rights and and can speak about it aloud in a safe manner
We have mainstream artists who openly supported the movement from the start and we have mainstream artists who remained silent and/or just opposed it. Some supportive artists were openly called ‘traitors’ and have been targeted by the government, one of them being a well-known mainstream actor. Some of them were on the ground with the other people, protesting in person. And some so-called artists (who have never even been in the Park (the de facto headquarters of the whole movement) made meaningless meetings with the PM concerning the protests just to show off.

Have the recent developments made you more interested in addressing political issues directly in your music?
Well, I can’t even find any time to listen to music let alone work on it since these protests turned this way. But I can comfortably say that I have tasted the mesmerizing feeling of solidarity and I am a different person now, determined to take action whenever it needs be. So, we’ll see.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Biblo
Homepage: Aentitainment Records